A dolphin streams ahead of the R/V Thompson as the ship transits home from 47 days at sea. Photo Credit: Cody Turner, University of Washington.
19 August 2013
The last days I have spent on the VISIONS 2013 cruise have been a little more laid-back, because none of the students have had watch. We have been transiting for most of the time. So I have spent the last few days working on my projects; a movie explaining collapse zones, and organizing the students and myself to give a presentation over the live stream about something we learned during the cruise. I gave all the students a choice to be a part of the presentation, and all of them chose to. I’m very happy with this, speaking over the live stream can be really nerve-racking and it’s hard to do it voluntarily. But the only way to get better at public speaking is by doing it, and I think the students realize this and share my view about how important public outreach is, especially in the field of oceanography.
Yesterday was actually really busy, we had to put all the images and pictures we were using together in a keynote presentation for Ed to click through as we spoke. We also did a few run-throughs of the live presentation while recording ourselves, so we could critique ourselves and each other. I think the actual live presentation went really well, everyone knew their topic, looked into the camera, and was able to talk with minimal ums and ahs and other such fillers.
The weather for our transits has been phenomenal, there is barely any rocking at all. Yesterday was sunny enough for several people to get burnt, which is usually quite a feat for a research cruise off the coast of Oregon and Washington. We came outside around 8 PM last night to watch the sun set over the water, and while it wasn’t as amazing as some of the other sunsets we have seen this cruise, there was an added bonus to this one. We were looking off the bow, and we saw some dolphins leaping out of the water towards our boat. I thought they were just passing by but Giora Proskurowski, an RSN project scientist and co-chief scientist of Leg 3, knew better. Apparently it is not uncommon for dolphins to swim up to large boats and play in the wake created on the bow. These four or five dolphins looked like they were having the time of their lives; they were swimming at the same speed as the boat and periodically launching themselves into the air. Some of them even pulled some impressive tricks, like barrel rolls or unusually high leaps. All of this was completed by Giora providing whoops of joy as the dolphins performed their maneuvers.
I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of the VISIONS 2013 cruise. I had great experiences, met many brilliant people, and saw some truly amazing sights. Just as importantly, I discovered how much I enjoy the informal education aspect of oceanography, and how necessary I think it is for scientists to communicate to the public. As of now I’m planning on following some sort of career in informal education, most likely oriented towards the ocean sciences. I have a long time to think this over; I’ll be travelling in South America for a year starting September 15th, but I could definitely see myself coming back afterwards and either going to graduate school or getting a Masters in science communication. I don’t know exactly where the future leads me, but I’m pretty sure it will include the ocean sciences in some way or another.
I’d like to thank Deb Kelley, John Delaney, and Giora Proskurowski for inviting all the students and I on this cruise when they could have used the rooms for more scientists and engineers. OCN 411, the class students have taken on the VISIONS 2013 cruise, is truly a unique experience and is one of the few possibilities for undergraduates to get real experience working on a research cruise. Even though it’s only around two weeks long, almost every student I’ve talked to has said this class has changed their lives in some way or another. I’m always impressed by the ability of Deb, John and Giora to think of the future and get students interested in oceanographic research while working on this massive project. I can’t wait to see the Regional Scale Nodes project completed, I don’t think anyone is better for the job than these three and the RSN team.
13 August 2013
Two days ago, after my last blog, I saw what might have been the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever experienced. I’m attaching the picture even though it doesn’t come close to showing how amazing the actual sight was. The water was the calmest it’s been so far, and it almost looked like a computer animation. To top it all off there was a gigantic Mola mola that swam fairly close to the boat. It must have been six feet from head to tail. Since the water was calm, it could actually swim instead of just flopping around on the surface. However, swimming implies a movement much more graceful than what the Mola mola was actually doing. It was kind of wagging its body back and forth, and letting its dorsal fin go above the surface every once in a while. I was out there with all the other students and some of the scientists on board, and we must have all stayed out there for at least 45 minutes watching the sun and looking for the Mola mola.
That night was the first relatively clear night we’ve had since I have been on board, and we could finally look at the stars on the bow. The moon was around a quarter full, and it was a deep orange so it wasn’t too bright to stargaze. The starts were much better than in Seattle, and it took our eyes almost ten minutes to fully adjust to the darkness. As you lay on the bow and watch the stars, your eyes play a funny trick on you. There is a tower rising above everything else on the Thompson, and since the boat is constantly rocking it moves in relation to the stars you can see. However after a while, your vision suddenly switches and it looks like the stars are moving in relation to the tower on the boat. It’s strange that the switch is so sudden, and when it happens you can hear people exclaiming with surprise. There were also a few shooting stars, and one was so big it streaked across half the sky. Quite a night, to say the least.
The next day was just as eventful. We sent ROPOS down with the high-definition camera attached to the bottom to be deployed and tested. After setting it on the bottom between the two hydrothermal vents Mushroom and Inferno, the cable was connected from the camera to ROPOS, which fed the information to the engineers on board the Thompson. This way the engineers could “talk” to the camera and tell it to pan left or right, tilt up or down, or zoom in or out. The camera was able to do all of those things, and it almost has a full 360 degrees of rotation. It was so cool to view Mushroom in such high definition without using an ROV camera, and I can’t wait to see what a compilation of photos will look like over time after the camera is fully operational from land.
Last night we had a great lecture from Emily Yam, an employee at the Aquarium of the Pacific. She had us all discuss what we thought the definition of science was, what we thought makes a process scientific, and what the state of science education is in the public schools. It was a great discussion, and helped me think about how to better my public speaking ability. One suggestion was to organize four talks based on your topic, one for colleagues in your field, one for your parents, one for a high school student, and one for the public. Doing this would certainly make me consider how best to present every bit of information to the appropriate audience. One of my favorite parts of the talk was a slide showing some scientific terms, and the difference between what they mean to the scientific community compared with what they mean to the public.
We finished the ROPOS dive on my watch today, and are currently doing a CTD cast. Today ROPOS picked up an old microbiology experiment. The point of the experiment was to see if different microbes grow on different minerals. The minerals were chosen based on their presence in hydrothermal vents. There were six tubes with different minerals placed in incubators over a diffuse flow area, with relatively hot hydrothermal fluid coming out. After being opened the tubes smelled like burnt rubber, a smell given off by the microbes living inside. There were even tubeworms growing on one of them. It’s quite a cool experiment, and it will be interesting to see the results. Tomorrow we are transiting to Newport, and then going to one of the primary nodes to fix it with an L3 employee. Hopefully we will have relatively good weather for the transit back!
11 August 2013
Life on the Thompson continues, and time seems to be picking up speed as we get closer to the end of the VISIONS 2013 expedition. Two nights ago I made another appearance on the live stream update at 7 in the evening. I was much calmer this time, and I enjoyed talking back and forth with John Delaney. I remember two years ago I was terrified to speak on the live stream, even if not many people were watching. I’m glad that all has changed and that I like it now. Yesterday we had the most visually exciting dive so far, at least for me personally. We did an image survey and some close up visuals of two hydrothermal vents, Mushroom and Inferno. A graduate student in Germany is going to use the images collected to make a 3-dimensional model of the vents, which I am really excited to see. I am quite fond of these two vents; they were the first contact I had with any hydrothermal systems at all. When I first started working for Deb Kelley a little over two years ago one of my first projects was to put together mosaics of these vents from various still images collected the previous year. Before I started working on the mosaics I watched some movies taken by the ROV of the vents, and I can still remember the fascination I felt when first seeing the vents. They really are majestic formations, and the most amazing thing about them is how much they change from year to year. I don’t know of any other situation where a rock can grow so much in such little time. Having a 3D model of the vents at least each year will make it much easier to see how they are changing.
That night I gave my talk from the last leg of the expedition about the state of public outreach in oceanography. The talk is fairly short so afterwards Emily Yam, an employee of the Aquarium of the Pacific, started a discussion about what outreach really is and how best to promote outreach and education among the public. Everyone had good points to make I thought the discussion went really well. This whole research expedition has made me continually more interested in pursuing a career in informal outreach and education. Both of the people I have met on the cruise who work in that area seem to have careers I believe are very important and, most importantly, careers I would greatly enjoy.
Today has been similar to other days so far, I woke up and did my watch from 8-12 AM. We set up a seismometer, did a cable survey, and tested one of the secondary nodes. Not the most exciting dive from a scientist’s point of view, but it’s very important to check and make sure everything is working, and make a plan to fix whatever isn’t. For the rest of the day I’m going to work on the various projects I have. I am also thinking of putting together a conversation for the students and me to have on one of the live updates, maybe after a transit so there aren’t any important updates to share. It’s always good to spend more time communicating with the public; it doesn’t get any easier without practice!
9 August 2013
I woke up yesterday to find that ROPOS had finished its dive about two hours before my watch, meaning there wasn’t really anything I was obligated to do. Fortunately there was a CTD cast coming up, the second one since I’ve been on the expedition and the first I’ve been awake for! It was like getting reacquainted with an old friend. Maybe not exactly like that. But it was nice to know I haven’t forgotten how to take the various water samples for analyses such as oxygen concentration, salinity, chlorophyll, nutrient concentration, and microbial cell abundance. A few of us students helped take all the samples in the order necessary, taking oxygen first to minimize contamination from the atmosphere. We then prepared the CTD for the next cast, and repeated the process.
The CTD cast was the last activity before leaving Slope Base and transiting to Axial Seamount for the final time this summer. We were very lucky to have calm weather for the transit, so the boat didn’t rock too much. And by we, I mean the people susceptible to seasickness, like me. There wasn’t too much for the other students and me to do during the transit so we all made a few cups to be crushed during the next CTD cast. I also worked on learning how to use iMovie since I will be taking highlight clips from ROPOS dives for students to use and to put on the Interactive Oceans website. It’s quite an easy program to learn, which was a pleasant surprise.
I had watch today, where we surveyed a possible cable laying site. I’ve seen the lava flows at Axial many times now, but they never cease to amaze me. After the cable route survey we released a mooring that had run out of batteries. To release the mooring ROPOS had to cut the line with a knife. I’m not ashamed to say that the kid in me always gets excited to see robots with knives. Now I’m going to work with iMovie some more, and maybe start to make a movie myself that can go on the Interactive Oceans website. More to come later!
7 August 2013
Before Leg 4, I spent two days off the boat in Newport, Oregon, with both my parents and the beautiful Jillian Bellamy. It felt a little weird being on land, even after only 16 or 17 days at sea. I experienced what is known on the Thompson as “dock rock.” My body was so used to the rocking of the boat that when I got on solid ground it felt like the ground was still moving. Now I’m back at sea, where the ground of the Thompson really is moving. Quite a lot of people have switched out including scientists, students, engineers, and some of the crew as well. There’s going to be some more science work happening this leg, which should be really cool! I’m especially excited about the microbiology that will be done on board.
These past few days have been pretty interesting. While we were sitting at Hydrate Ridge, a fin whale (at least we think it was a fin whale) decided we were pretty interesting and circled around the boat while surfacing a few times. It got about 10 feet away from the boat, which is easily the closest I’ve ever been to a whale. On the ROPOS dive at Hydrate Ridge, we saw some fairly prominent methane plumes, which seep out of the ground and rise up to the surface. The dive was led by Brendan Philip who is doing his senior thesis data collection on this expedition. He is trying to figure out if the methane from these seeps can reach the surface and be released into the atmosphere. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Nothing about methane seeps were included in the IPCC report on climate change in 2007, so the more we know about them the better.
Early this morning during a CTD cast, the wire holding the rosette broke and the entire package fell through the water to the bottom, about 3000 meters below the surface. Fortunately ROPOS was able to recover it quickly and it’s now safe on board. It seems there is very little ROPOS can’t do, and a potentially huge problem became only a minor setback. We are doing one more dive here at Slope Base, then we will be on our way to Axial Seamount for the rest of the expedition.
28 July 2013
Life on board the Thompson continues, with some activities becoming more routine (but not boring) and other new ones constantly emerging. It's easy to get caught up by work inside the Thompson's lab, so I've been going on deck at least once a day to look at the vast sky and ocean in front of us. In Seattle, where I've spent most of my life, a lot of the sky is obscured by buildings and mountains, but out here neither of those are present. It makes the sky much more beautiful, with the clouds being blown by the strong ocean wind. Every sunset is quite pretty, with one out of three being phenomenal.
I got to take over one of Ed McNichol's jobs, switching over the video control system, and almost got it right. I was so close! Unfortunately I forgot to format a drive and had to wake him up. At least he got an extra hour or so of sleep. Yesterday I joined John Delaney on the live video update he does every day at 7 pm to talk about what I'm doing on the boat. It was a little nerve-racking, but everyone said I looked fairly comfortable so it must not have gone so badly.
Right after that we got a lecture from Fredrik Ryden, a graduate student at UW originally from Sweden. He gave us an amazing talk, and I would encourage everyone to attend his thesis defense on August 21st. Fredrik works with robotics, specifically the remote physical interaction referred to as haptics. Think Skype but with touch.
On watch last night we finally got to see a dumbo octopus! They are incredible creatures, and we must have scared this one because it stopped flapping its ear-like wings and went to the seafloor to try to bury itself. That's all for now, thanks for reading!
25 July 2013
These last few days have been both busy and a lot of fun. On my watch I witnessed a risky two-line operation (risky due to the possibility of the two lines tangling), which was executed beautifully by both the ROPOS team and the crew of the Thomas G. Thompson. I also got to see a couple of crabs munching on some tasty-looking decomposing matter. Every day we get an informal lecture from someone on board. So far we have had a graduate student at UW, Owen Coyle, tell us about how oceanographic models should reflect the "patchiness" of how organisms are spaced in the ocean and should not assume a uniform distribution like the models do currently. Owen also taught me how to solder, a skill I'm sure will come in handy. We have also had professor Leslie Sautter from Charleston tell us about the morphologies of different sea floor lava flows and how they are formed. Chief Scientist John Delaney just finished telling us about the geology of hydrothermal systems, a topic I have heard before but not in such detail!
I have been working on my article and have finished writing my views on how public outreach in oceanography has been largely unsuccessful compared to similar fields. The next step is to interview other students and scientists on board and ask for their views. I have also been learning more and more about how to do some of the video control work onboard so the operator, Ed McNichol, can get more than 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. The more I learn the more I realize what an incredible system he has set up, and I can't imagine how he first came up with it. I'm excited to continue learning all I can, hopefully the weather stays as good as it has been!
23 July 2013
Hey everyone! Yesterday and today have been much better and more exciting for me aboard the R/V Thompson. Yesterday was the first day I felt no seasickness, which was a Godsend. Maybe I should get seasick more often so that feeling normal again is wonderful. ROPOS has finally been able to dive, and we've seen some pretty cool things. There have been nudibranchs dancing above the seafloor, crabs scavenging on the bottom, various kinds of fishes slowly swimming through the cold water, and even an octopus warily regarding us with its big, intelligent eyes. On the surface, we have attracted a fairly large crowd of albatross who must enjoy the scraps of food sent overboard. We also saw a Mola mola flopping around near the bow. I had my first midnight-to-4 AM shift, and was a little surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. It's quite peaceful without all the hustle and bustle that happens in the daytime. I have been working on figuring out exactly what my project is going to be, and I think I have more or less figured it out. As of now I'm going to interview people on board, ask their opinions about public outreach in oceanography, and write an article summarizing their thoughts. Of course like anything on a research expedition, that is subject to change. More to follow as it happens!
July 21, 2013
Hey everyone! If you're reading this, you probably know a fair amount about the VISIONS ‘13 cruise and how lucky I am to be on board. Unfortunately for everyone, many things have been going wrong with the cruise, even before we left port. The Thompson had engine problems, and we couldn’t deploy ROPOS as planned at the Slope Base site because of the weather. I haven't been doing too much yet; just trying to figure out exactly what I want to do for my project and fighting seasickness. However there have been a few highlights! John Delaney gave us an excellent talk about the VISIONS mission, the OOI regional cabled observatory, and oceanography in general. Keith Shepherd from the ROPOS team gave us a great tour of the ROV. Also, Ben Fundis, the videographer on board, showed us a movie called "Border Stories" that he helped to make. It was a really well made and interesting documentary, and I would recommend it to everyone. (It is posted online.) We are currently on our way to Axial and should get there in around 18 hours. I'm looking forward to the rest of the cruise, and I'll try to update the blog as much as I can!